O'Really?

September 10, 2021

On this day, twenty years ago, 10th September 2001

The World Trade Center, New York in 2001, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/_z323

On this day twenty years ago, September 10th 2001, the following things did not exist:

  • Euro coins and banknotes; real physical €uro currency was released the following year in January 2002 [1]
  • The iPhone, iPad, iPod, iOS, smartphones and tablets. A new device called the “iPod” was released the following month in October 2001, swiftly followed by a tsunami of mobile devices and iThings. [2]
  • YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, TikTok and indeed any form of social media. Do you sometimes wish we could go back to a world without social media? Oh Happy days!
  • Deadly viruses such as SARSMERS and SARS‑CoV‑2, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Any kind of usable videotelephony service for the masses: Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, Teams, Whatever…

On this day twenty years ago, September 10th 2001, the following events were yet to take place:

On this day twenty years ago, September 10th 2001, the global average temperature was about ~0.5°C lower and the following things did exist in a significantly cooler global climate:

(As predicted, software has eaten the world, or at least it has taken a very big bite of our communication and commerce)

On this day twenty years ago, September 10th 2001, trillions of dollars were about to be spent fighting wars in which:

  • Thousands of civilians on all sides were killed
  • Thousands of combatants on all sides were killed

(May they rest in peace)

My ticket to the observation deck 09/01/93

On this day twenty years ago, September 10th 2001, the western world was a very different place. Did a lot more happen in the last twenty years (2001—2021), than in the preceding twenty years (1981—2001)? In retrospect, do the eighties and nineties look relatively uneventful when compared to the noughties and the teenies? As the globe warms and our climate changes, is politics getting hotter too?

  • Perhaps humanity is accelerating like never before? OR
  • Perhaps it’s just that life seems to speed up as you get older? OR
  • Perhaps we were just too young and not paying enough attention back then?

References

  1. Anon (2002) New Euro banknotes and coins introduced in 12 countriesEuropean Central Bank, Brussels
  2. Alicia Awbrey and Natalie Sequeira (2001) Apple Presents iPod: Ultra-Portable MP3 Music Player Puts 1,000 Songs in Your PocketApple Inc, Cupertino, California
  3. Simon Bowers (2001) Google hits on profit formulaThe Guardian, London

July 30, 2021

Join us to discuss when study turns digital on Monday 2nd August at 2pm BST

Public domain image of Coronavirus by Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins at CDC.gov on Wikimedia commons w.wiki/ycs

The pandemic has accelerated changes to the way we teach and learn. Join us to discuss the Covid-19 shutdown: when studying turns digital, students want more structure: a paper by Vegard Gjerde, Robert Gray, Bodil Holst and Stein Dankert Kolstø on the effects of the pandemic on Physics Education at a Norwegian University. [1]

In March 2020, universities in Norway and many other countries shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The students lost access to classrooms, libraries, study halls, and laboratories. Studying turned digital. Because it is unclear when this pandemic will cease to affect students and because we cannot know whether or when a new pandemic occurs, we need to find ways to improve digital study-life for students. An important step in this direction is to understand the students’ experiences and perspectives regarding how the digitalization affected their study-life both in structured learning arenas and their self-study. Therefore, we interviewed 12 students in an introductory mechanics course at a Norwegian university in June of 2020. Through a thematic analysis, we identified four broad categories in the students’ different experiences and reflections, namely that digitalization: (a) provides benefits, e.g. the flexibility inherent in online video lectures; (b) incurs learning costs, e.g. students reducing their study effort; (c) incurs social costs, e.g. missing being around other students; and (d) increases the need for structure, e.g. wanting to be arranged in digital groups to solve mandatory tasks. We also found that the 2019 students on average scored significantly better on the final exam than the 2020 students, d = 0.31, but we discuss why this result should be interpreted with caution. We provide suggestions for how to adapt courses to make students’ digital studying more socially stimulating and effective. Furthermore, this study is a contribution to the historical documentation of the Covid-19 pandemic.

All welcome, as usual, we’ll be meeting on Zoom see sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us for details. Thanks to Sarah Clinch for suggesting the paper.

References

  1. Gjerde, Vegard; Gray, Robert; Holst, Bodil; Kolstø, Stein Dankert (2021). “The Covid-19 shutdown: when studying turns digital, students want more structure”. Physics Education56 (5): 055004. doi:10.1088/1361-6552/ac031e

February 24, 2021

Join us to discuss teaching social responsibility and justice in Computer Science on Monday 1st March at 2pm GMT

Scales of justice icon made by monkik from flaticon.com

With great power comes great responsibility. [1] Given their growing power in the twenty-first century, computer scientists have a duty to society to use that power responsibly and justly. How can we teach this kind of social responsibility and ethics to engineering students? Join us to discuss teaching social justice in computer science via a paper by Rodrigo Ferreira and Moshe Vardi at Rice University in Houston, Texas published in the sigcse2021.sigcse.org conference [2]. From the abstract of the preprint:

As ethical questions around the development of contemporary computer technologies have become an increasing point of public and political concern, computer science departments in universities around the world have placed renewed emphasis on tech ethics undergraduate classes as a means to educate students on the large scale social implications of their actions. Committed to the idea that tech ethics is an essential part of the undergraduate computer science educational curriculum, at Rice University this year we piloted a redesigned version of our Ethics and Accountability in Computer Science class. This effort represents our first attempt at implementing a “deep” tech ethics approach to the course.

Incorporating elements from philosophy of technology, critical media theory, and science and technology studies, we encouraged students to learn not only ethics in a “shallow” sense, examining abstract principles or values to determine right and wrong, but rather looking at a series of “deeper” questions more closely related to present issues of social justice and relying on a structural understanding of these problems to develop potential socio-technical solutions. In this article, we report on our implementation of this redesigned approach. We describe in detail the rationale and strategy for implementing this approach, present key elements of the redesigned syllabus, and discuss final student reflections and course evaluations. To conclude, we examine course achievements, limitations, and lessons learned toward the future, particularly in regard to the number escalating social protests and issues involving Covid-19.

This paper got me thinking:

Houston, we’ve had your problem!

After paging the authors in Houston with the message above there was initial radio silence.

Beep - beep - beep [white noise] Beep - beep - beep...

Hello Manchester, this is Houston, Can we join you?

So we’re delighted to be joined LIVE by the authors of the paper Rodrigo Ferreira and Moshe Vardi from Houston, Texas. They’ll give a lightning talk outlining the paper before we discuss it together in smaller break out groups.

Their paper describes a problem everyone in the world has had in teaching ethics in Computer Science recently. How can we make computing more ethical?

All welcome. As usual, we’ll be meeting on zoom, see sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us for details.

References

  1. Spider-Man (1962) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/With_great_power_comes_great_responsibility
  2. Rodrigo Ferreira and Moshe Vardi (2021) Deep Tech Ethics An Approach to Teaching Social Justice in Computer Science in Proceedings of the 52nd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE ’21), March 13–20, 2021, Virtual Event, USA. ACM, New York, NY, USA. DOI:10.1145/3408877.3432449
  3. Jack Swigert (1970) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston,_we_have_a_problem

January 26, 2021

No need to run and hide, it’s a wonderful, wonderful life

Five years ago today, Colin Vearncombe passed away. While his birth name might not be familiar to many people, his stage name Black and the song Wonderful Life he wrote and performed are much more widely known. Wonderful life achieved commercial success across Europe in 1987.

The music video for Wonderful Life was shot in black and white around the English seaside resort of Southport, Merseyside and Wallasey on the Wirral

This haunting tune caught my again ear recently. The lyrics are particularly appropriate given the pandemic because it’s a sad but strangely comforting song written in a minor key. The refrain “no need to run and hide, it’s a wonderful, wonderful life” is optimistic and contrasts with the otherwise melancholy mood of the song.

Like many other listeners, I took the lyrics at face value and thought they were optimistic until I read a little about the circumstances that inspired the song:

“By the end of 1985 I had been in a couple of car crashes, my mother had a serious illness, I had been dropped by a record company, my first marriage went belly-up and I was homeless. Then I sat down and wrote this song called Wonderful Life. I was being sarcastic.”

Colin Vearncombe quoted in The Irish Times:
Memorial service video celebrating the life of Colin Vearncombe, played at Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, 19th February 2016

As described in the memorial service video above, Colin once dedicated this song to “anyone suffering needlessly in the world right now”.

No need to laugh and cry. It’s a wonderful, wonderful life. Rest in Peace Colin Vearncombe, born 26 May 1962, died 26 January 2016.

References

  1. Barry Roche (2016) Funeral of singer ‘Black’ to take place in County Cork: Liverpool-born ‘Wonderful Life’ singer died after car crash on way to Cork Airport, The Irish Times, irishtimes.com

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